Pooja Dawani - Raheel, 14 years old, wants to join the army when he grows up. Studying and living at the Edhi Home situated inside Edhi Village on Super Highway between Karachi and Hyderabad, Raheel, his best friend Babar, along with 56 other boys living at the home, are the only family these boys have. 

Raheel doesn’t remember how old he was when he came to live at the Edhi Center. He says “I have been living here for many years.” Shy in the beginning, it takes him a little time to bask in the attention he is receiving and happily recites poetry to impress his interested audience.

“When I was very small, I used to love sweets” he shares “one day, I stole some money from my mother’s bag and ran out to a shop to buy some sweets. But then I got lost and couldn’t  get back home. I didn’t know what to do so I found a corner and hid there. Two policemen found me and brought me to Edhi Center. I’ve been living here since.” Raheel says he likes studying during school time the best and that his favorite subject is English. 

“Nana ji (Edhi sb) said to me “when you grow up, we will go and find your parents, till then I’ll keep coming to meet you” and he kept his promise. But my parents are dead now. So this is my home, and all of the boys here are my friends. I like it when Kubra baji (Edhi’s daughter) comes to meet us and spend time with us.”

The Edhi home where Raheel lives, provides its residents living quarters with comfortable beds, a playground to play cricket and football in, a TV to watch cartoons and news, three meals freshly cooked by staff at the premises, a mosque for prayers, bi-annual field trips and medical help available when needed. But what happens to children who don’t make it to these shelters?

Edhi Centers have provided shelter to hundreds of children all over Pakistan. But an estimated 1.2 million children in Pakistan live on the streets of major cities. 

Pakistan failed to achieve targets set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and children of Pakistan continue to face violence, abuse, exploitation and negligence. Misplaced priorities of government bodies, low budgetary allocations for health and education, chasms in policy making and apathetic societal attitudes persist in the country and progress on child rights legislation and reforms remain slow.1

It has been 26 years since Pakistan signed the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC).  After decades of struggle, safeguarding children rights in the country remains a formidable task.

Today, over 22 million children in Pakistan are out of school2 and half of all children in the country are malnourished3. We have failed to eradicate polio, our healthcare facilities are dismal, and violence against children including sexual abuse, child labor and early marriages are regrettably commonplace.

The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a unanimous resolution to adopt the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) as a national development program. The effectiveness and the implementation of policies remain to be seen.

The Edhi Village at the super highway, where Raheel lives, also houses around 1400 physically and mentally challenged children and men along with recovering drug addicts. Of these, 200 are children, who are divided into groups of 100 each, and live inside expansive halls, called wards by Edhi Foundation staff, with tiled floors where the children spend their days and sleep. One care-taker is available to each group or ward 24/7 and a doctor on-site conducts daily visits.

Faisal, one of the care-takers of a children’s ward who has worked at the Edhi Foundation for 6 years, shares “Some of the older boys who are healthier help me in my duties, and mostly these children are not troublesome. Fresh food is cooked every day for them, and most of them, unable to go to school, pass their time by playing in the garden surrounding the halls. Edhi Sahab used to like spending time with these children, and would often have lunch with them.” Although rudimentary, these facilities are far better than anything that the government has been able to provide for disabled children of the country.

The Edhi Foundation continues sheltering underprivileged children of Pakistan but the enormity of the problem calls for scaling up of their services, which in turn, is dependent on constant and greater than before funding. Recognizing this need, Coca-Cola Pakistan has partnered with Edhi Foundation this Ramazan for a fund-raising campaign called ‘Bottle of Change’. The campaign encourages people to collect and donate money to Edhi Foundation to sustain their efforts of protecting children in need. All of us owe a responsibility of providing a better, safer Pakistan to the youth of the country, and helping Edhi Foundation, during and after the campaign, is the least we can do.